published on 06/06/2016 by David Baker
The essential role of senior management in establishing good engagement
It can become quite a cliché: the idea that senior management/organisational leadership teams, play such a key role in so many aspects that contribute towards success. Yet it is so true. And no more so than in the area of engaging with stakeholders.
In a recent survey, it stated that “…companies that have a leadership team that fully understand and support engagement are over three times more likely to have a successful programme…”. But the survey then went on to report that the single biggest barrier to active stakeholder engagement was insufficient buy-in from senior leaders. Furthermore, it has been shown that when organisations resolve this problem of buy-in, that the other major barriers (issues such as budget constraints and process and infrastructure problems) can be more easily broken down.
At pearcemayfield, we deliver for our clients a range of workshops in change management and stakeholder engagement, and we get to hear a lot of stories about how senior leaders handle stakeholder engagement. From your own experience, you can imagine that some of the stories are good, but an awful lot of them are not.
• Leaders avoiding the media when there is a major problem
• Introducing ‘hot-desking’ for everyone, but keeping their own offices unchanged
• Absentee leadership – out of touch with what is really happening
In Patrick Mayfield’s book, Practical People Engagement, he says “What you believe as being important in leading people through change, what you pay attention to and monitor, is crucial. If you limit yourself to focusing on mechanistic management processes, documents and techniques, you will, at best, only achieve positive results by accident. At worst, your efforts could backfire and cause people to resist even more what you are trying to do.” Patrick then goes on, in the rest of the book to address what he describes as the key skill for leaders – active, positive, thought-through stakeholder engagement.
So, let’s take a look at the
seven principles that underpin great stakeholder engagement.
Seek first to understand, then be understood.
At the heart of this principle is the call to be active listeners, for leaders to be fully present in conversations with others and having the courtesy to hear others’ point of view before expressing their own. Never start a conversation with your solution!
Effective Change is always led.
Leaders set the direction of a business. Change has to be led, and people are expecting purpose, meaning and vision. It is the job of the leader to provide that, so active leadership is essential.
Habits are the inhibitors and the goal.
When we are trying to introduce change we need to remember that there are ingrained habits in the organisation that will resist and inhibit the change. Many aspects of organisational culture produce these habits. Our goal then is to break these habits and introduce new, hopefully improves, ones. And of course, organisational culture is shaped primarily by leaders.
Recognise and minimize the pain of change.
If people can see that their leaders recognise that the change is painful for some stakeholders, and if they then see that those leaders are attempting to minimize that pain, the influence of those leaders will grow. The idea of the concept called ‘loss aversion’ is that we put greater value on losses than we do on gains, and leaders must remember this and be seen to be ‘pain minimisers’.
High performance comes through people and action.
There is tremendous evidence that effective leaders have a leaning to action, they make things happen, and a leaning to people, they prioritise time with others. We might call this action-centred engagement…
Integrity is powerfully persuasive.
Are we looking to impress or influence? Whilst we might impress from a distance, to influence we must get close, and if we get close people will be able to see the reality of who we are. So if leaders are to maintain credibility, they must do it from a position of integrity. There is no substitute.
Feelings trump reason and meaning trump authority.
More and more we are seeing that the rational, fact-based arguments for change just do not work, at least not alone. The emotions, our feelings, are incredibly powerful. Leaders must make an emotional connection with their stakeholders. Also, leaders must be careful not to use authority as a short-cut to change. It actually doesn’t work, and only achieves compliance at best. Leaders must be able to express the ‘why?’ of a change and to give meaning to all that is going on.
Seven principles of good stakeholder engagement. I can think of no situations where they are not relevant. Why not consider them to be a checklist to keep with you as you are leading change, wherever you are?
Check our Stakeholder Engagement course page: